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Prescription painkillers double risk of birth defects

Staff writer |
More than one-fourth of privately-insured and one-third of Medicaid-enrolled women of childbearing age filled prescriptions for opioid-based (narcotic) painkillers between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

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Many women are unaware that prescription opioid-based medications such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine, used to treat severe pain, may increase the risk for serious birth defects of the baby’s brain, spine, and heart, as well as preterm birth when taken during pregnancy.

Use of these medications also can cause babies to suffer withdrawal symptoms when born, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, a growing problem in U.S. birthing hospitals.

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, women may be prescribed opioid-based pain medications before they or their health care providers know they are pregnant.

“This highlights the importance of promoting safer alternative treatments, when available for women of reproductive age. We must do what we can to protect babies from exposure to opioids." stated Coleen A. Boyle, PhD, MSHyg, Director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD).

In the U.S., a baby is born with a birth defect every four and a half minutes, and one out of every five deaths in the first year of life is caused by a birth defect. In addition to the human toll, birth defects incur hospital-related economic costs that exceed $2.6 billion annually. â– 


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